Essays in Idleness


Tutti in coda (II)

[This is simply a continuation of the previous Idlepost. My “software” decided it was too long, so I’ve tricked it by breaking the thing into two parts.]


Canada, in my view — and I speak from no other — was the ideal target for the “long march through the institutions” that we associate with Gramsci and the “Frankfurt School” of latter-day Marxists. Rather than waste their time on incendiary rhetoric and bombs, like the ineffectual anarchists before them, they would infiltrate the state and the professions. Gradually they would create the conditions in which Communism could be achieved: a society of straw men, terrified by fire. Rather than invest in their own propaganda, they would appropriate the publicity apparatus of the very society they sought to control. Bloody methods were not going to work; people would see what they were doing and stop them. Instead they would try the vegetable methods.

And these work splendidly in a country of vegetables. A handful of Canadians may speak up sharply, the rest will behave like sullen carrots. They will turn their irritation, should they discover any, not on their assailant, but upon the source of the noise.

I participated in a delicious example of this on a Toronto streetcar a few years ago, when a driver, who had been short-turned, refused to give his passengers transfers, citing an absurd technicality. Cheated of their fares, twenty people filed quietly off to the sidewalk. I decided to argue the matter with the driver, who responded with passive-aggressive indifference. (“Public servants” in Canada could detonate nuclear devices without being fired.) But when I stepped down from his car, defeated, I saw that my fellow passengers were finally upset. This was not because the driver had cheated them, but because I had confronted him. I had created a scene, disturbed the peace. Imagine a whole country like that.


Well, I have got this far without even mentioning the name of our current prime minister: Justin Trudeau. As the name suggests, he is the son of the late Pierre Trudeau, who governed with attitudes close to sadism, winning four elections, and being accepted by progressives here and worldwide as a really cool guy. Trudeau père, educated by Jesuits, had several admirable qualities, such as mental clarity and courage. But he was, overall, a nasty piece of work. I would not say this of Trudeau fils.

We all knew the little Trudeau’s qualifications for office when we elected him. He had been a gym instructor, and a nightclub bouncer. It is said he once taught drama, briefly, to a Vancouver high school class. He also had very pretty hair, and was the son of the Übermensch. Justin’s only known policy position, was support for the legalization of marijuana. But the Liberal Party of Canada, which was in power through most of the twentieth century, has formidable back rooms. All they needed was a face on the posters.

Imagine their surprise, and ours, when the lad turned out to have some other opinions. Or rather, not opinions, which implies conscious thought, but the attitudes typical of his generation. He is not a thinker at all, but a product of educational inflation. It shows at every turn.

When he, for instance, introduces legislation requiring those applying for public subsidies to endorse a checklist of everything from gay marriage to transsexualism to no-questions-asked abortion; or puts the use of preferred pronouns into the criminal code; there is no one to stop him. His own cabinet is filled with kids of like mind, chosen statistically by colour and gender; they take such things for obvious. They do not vex their pretty heads by thinking through the consequences.

And when they are confronted by people trying to reason with them — older, though often enough on their own side — they are genuinely puzzled. How could anyone be against anything that is politically correct? They never heard of it before. Their opponents must all be Nazis.

I’m not kidding about this: they really have never been exposed to anything except the fatuous beliefs now inculcated in our campus cultures — not only in Canada, but throughout the West. That “long march through the institutions” passed through before they were born.

In President Obama we had a preview of this, but now we’re in the movie. Obama was smart, and had some notion that other worldviews exist. He’d go to the trouble of tricking his adversaries. Young Trudeau never does this. He is wonderfully candid. His ideas about men and women; about economics, history, God and Man; about natural and positive law, and so forth — are so many bubbles in his herbal bath. He doesn’t know that his views aren’t original, that they all soaked in during the brainwashing process in the sheep lavoir.

As we look to the future, we can only expect the movie to continue. For the truth is, our ridiculously immature prime minister is at the crest edge of that “Generation X” which must, inevitably, come to power in country after country. We in Canada only have the privilege of enjoying it first, thanks to our national habit of being supine.


But there’s a flip side to that. We are, characteristically, very easy to embarrass. It seems the same young Trudeau has been making quite a fool of himself on the international stage. His “Mister Dress-up” performances in India and elsewhere have been making the news. He has become a butt of international humour.

To be fair, he couldn’t help this. A victim of the peculiar arrogance of his generation — moral shrillness whizzing from a bag of air — he is unable to take advice. He does what feels right to him, and when it all goes wrong, he is honestly confused. I wouldn’t put it past my fellow Canadians to flay him at the next general election, just to stop the pain.

For that’s another side of Canada that one might never guess at. We are secretly, for the most part, fairly near to sane. We may do stupid things (such as elect the Liberals, federally or provincially), but we do tend to notice when they charge us for it. It costs a lot of money to pursue ludicrous schemes in social and environmental engineering, not only directly in taxes, but also indirectly through carnage in trade. And when we start to notice, we frown like any aggrieved bourgeois. Moreover, Canada has the secret ballot. We might vote for a less progressive party, and no one would ever know.

The test is coming in the Province of Ontario, where the same ruling Liberal Party (provincial wing) has run up debts proportionally higher than California’s, and in much the same way. Their last provincial premier disappeared under a cloud of fraud suspicions, and was replaced by Kathleen Wynne, a very progressive lesbian on the Scandinavian model. She has put Ontario at the cutting edge of the “gender revolution” with sex-reorientation classes beginning at age five. (The man who designed this programme is now serving time for child molestation.) She has wind-farmed her way to quite alarming increases in everyone’s electricity bills. And she has done so much else. I notice her approval ratings are a small fraction of President Trump’s. And we have a provincial election in June.

Watch for it. I expect her to get clobbered by the Conservative opposition, whose new leader is naturally detested by our Liberal media. But they may not have the time to smear him properly. That leader, Doug Ford, is the brother of the memorable Rob Ford, Toronto’s illustrious, crack-partying mayor, who stormed the city with tax-cutting charisma. Doug was the brains behind the late Rob; he lacks the charisma, but probably doesn’t need it in the present circumstances.

Still, that is only a blip. When the media are finished with Ford, after a term or two, Generation X and successors will still be. It is demographically inevitable.


Europe, as one of our former prime ministers observed, suffers from too much history; Canada from too much geography. It was an astute observation, which pointed forward to another hard fact. From the top of Toronto’s highest communication tower, on a clear day, one may see almost one-third of Canada’s prime agricultural land — all of it now built over with suburbs. There is a lot of “nature” in Canada, that will be less arable, till the permafrost melts. But along our habitable strip, it is almost getting crowded. Even our cottage districts look like urban sprawl. This is not city life, but rather conurbation: there is little in the way of centre to it, except the high-rent skyscrapers and apartments downtown, where polite Canadians, who never meet their neighbours, don’t have any children.

Their knowledge of what lies outside their bubbles comes exclusively from within; their voyages outside are strictly recreational; they have no connexions to that nor, with the breakdown of family life, with the experience of other generations. As voters, they can only make decisions from what they see, carefully packaged for them by the progressive media. It is no wonder that the progressive parties have a near-monopoly on the “urban” vote, more or less everywhere, for there’s nothing to compete with the progressive messaging, reinforced by modern methods of crowd control.

This is another dimension of the post-modern phenomenon, worse in Canada than elsewhere because we are proportionally more urban. We may look like an empty country, from space, but the overwhelming majority of “the people” are strung through the superhighway maze. They spend much of their lives in traffic jams, tapping on iPhones within their metal cages. To say they are deracinated — a nicer word than “zombies” — would be to the point. But it’s worse than that, for within their virtual space they lose the precious intellectual links between cause and effect. They vote Liberal, not out of spite, but because they are mentally disabled.

Canadians thus find themselves in the vanguard of something happening throughout the West, and indeed, around the world. We don’t go out because it’s cold outside. The average Canadian, more than, say, the average Italian, is trapped in a centrally-heated interior. More and more, we live inside our computers. In a larger, cosmic sense we go stir-crazy.

But no revolutionary impulse follows from this. We’ve all come a long way, since 1968. Instead there is a growing disconnexion, from reality in all its known human forms. Canada may be a little more disconnected, but the direction we are travelling from our former orbit is much the same. We have the illusion of being at the front of a social revolution, when really we’re at the back of beyond, merely witnessing our own social dissolution.

Now, add in the evaporation of Christianity, and a further difficulty appears. We are without the moral or spiritual means to make a recovery.

Tutti in coda (I)

[An Italian editor, of the magazine, Tempi, recently asked me to explain Canada to his readers. How did this most timorous and bashful of nations come to be at the cutting edge of the international “gender revolution,” and related monstrosities of social engineering? My answer was published, here. Should any of my readers feel uncomfortable in Italian, I publish an English version, below.]


With a French Canadian friend, and a talented portrait photographer, I once contemplated writing a coffee-table book about Canada. The idea was to travel coast-to coast — from the Avalon Peninsula in Newfoundland to the farthest rock on Vancouver Island — seeking mischief, and taking pics. There are plenty of coffee-table books on Canada; ours, of course, would be different. It would tell wayward histories of places, including the element of farce; dig into ancestral culture and cuisine; and interview the saltier characters, while maintaining a tone of backhanded affection. It would subvert various national clichés, and shoot some sacred cows.

But we fell out quickly. I found my proposed co-author too forgiving of English Canada; he found me too forgiving of Quebec; the photographer found us both naïve about the Indians. I was allergic to the picturesque and romantic (which sells). Nor did I wish to echo the pretension of depth in the title of a once-famous journalist’s survey, Canada: The Unknown Country. In fact I proposed, “Canada: The Stupid Country,” in an effort to appal everyone.

Years have since passed, and far from having been completed, this project has yet to start. Perhaps I am writing the introduction only now.


It would be easy to say Canada is not a country at all, or not a country any more, but a quilt of a few spare American regions, stitched whimsically together. It has no organizing principle that any of its inhabitants could articulate. On the one hand, the dominant ethnicity, speaking English by birth or convenience, is itself merely a northern extension of English-speaking North America, otherwise known as the United States. Most of our people live within a short drive to the USA border. There are climatic reasons for this, and they are unanswerable. Our own regional differences, east to west along this thin strip, are greater than those of any with its adjoining American region. When our nationalists assume their opponents want Canada to become “the 51st American state,” I contradict them. No, we would become the 51st through 60th states.

But too, we have consciously discarded our old British, “Crown-in-Parliament” political identity, which did make a difference. For what formerly distinguished us as a nation was the fact that our ancestors had lost the American Revolutionary War, to those frisky “Patriots.” We were the “Loyalists” who, in 1776, violently refused to rebel, then marched into the northern wilds to free ourselves from the tyranny of popular government. (“Better one tyrant, three thousand miles away, than three thousand tyrants one mile away.”)

Indeed, both sides were cantankerous, wilful Yankees; ours was more racially varied. But we have since copied various USA institutions, from the Supreme Court, to the lamentable sport of baseball, while abandoning our old enthusiasm for the Crown, and replacing it with democratic cant and blather. The vestiges that remain of our distinct identity are thus now foreign to us. We’re apt to apologize for them.

Margaret Atwood, the American-style feminist, once wrote a book (Survival) in which she got the history of our country prior to her adulthood precisely backwards. She presented us as victims of Imperialism. But we had always been perpetrators: Imperialists ourselves, and quite proud of it. Our one frustration was that aged English granny was still clinging to the reins. And then, when it was our turn to run the Empire, the silly old woman gave it away.

Until recently Americans, like Europeans, were taught their national histories and mythologies in school. Present-day Canadians have no clue about ours. The younger graduates think it began in 1982, when Pierre Trudeau declared independence, and freed the slaves. If anything happened before, it must have been shameful, as our authorities confirmed last year, when we were supposed to be celebrating the 150th anniversary of the actual foundation — of our fair “Dominion,” as it is no longer called. (It’s now a “federal government,” just like USA.) It was a grim, year-long festival of liberal-progressive virtue signalling, through which we apologized to the Indians, for having apparently stolen their land.

This yielded many unintentionally comic moments, that were typically Canadian. We love to apologize, and are good at it. Apologizing for crimes in which no living person could possibly have participated, is what we do best.

We are also world leaders in queuing. We like to form polite and patient lines, for everything from bureaucratic forms, to Tim Horton’s coffee. A “cultural difference” may have emerged in this area, for Americans still don’t like to wait. They would much rather shoot you. But Canadians like to organize themselves in long, winding, respectful lines, for which, alas, there is no Olympic medal. And unlike Americans, we don’t talk to strangers, so there’s none of the socializing you get, south of the border, if a bus is late. Talk to the next Canadian in line, and his first impulse is to call the cops.

Rather than boast about this accomplishment, we simply radiate smugness and self-satisfaction. Recent immigrants learn: how, for instance, to walk like a Canadian, and apologize to a lamp post, should you happen to collide with it.

I am making this point because it is crucial — crucial to understanding what we might call the Canadian “atrophy.” We are a people going nowhere in particular, and thus, unhurried. We have a few pushy capitalists, to be sure, but they are a product of nature. The rest are accepting, even of the weather; for these days we can fly to Florida when it becomes insupportable.

An American friend, after a long visit, told what would happen if you drove your car right over a Canadian, dividing him in two. The top half would drag itself up to your car window. It would say: “Excuse me, sir, you should watch for pedestrians.”

This is crucial because it explains why Canada seems, to distant observers, to be in the vanguard of progressive “human rights,” drug toleration, and the “gender revolution.” It is not because Canadians are exceptionally depraved. The average Canadian would die of boredom before participating in an orgy. We’ve had “gay marriage” here for fifteen years, but hardly any takers. We have human rights tribunals, reminiscent of the Star Chambers in centuries gone by, and now laws governing our use of pronouns, but no one pays them any mind. And should they run afoul of them, they will go quietly, and write apologies to everyone. We have had legal abortion, seemingly forever, without even nominal restrictions, and sure enough we also have a few “pro-life” activists; but nobody likes them because they’re so unCanadian.


Perhaps I should mention that what is true today, wasn’t in the past. Canadians certainly did their share of the damage in two World Wars and Korea. From German memoirs, one learns that our troops — Methodist farm boys from Ontario and the like — filled them with terror. They’d be psychopathically aggressive to a fault, then suddenly stop for tea. The same was generally true through my parents’ generation. They would make scenes when they weren’t being served; you didn’t want to cross them. Our feminist tradition was from pioneering women who cleared rocks and tree stumps before planting wheat. You wouldn’t have had to explain their rights to them. But all that faded.

The story of post-modern revolution is certainly not a Canadian story. As befits our ancestry, centrally Norman English and Norman French, we were for God, King, and Country, and if English-speaking, extremely quick to sign up for wars. The French of Quebec were famously defeated on the Plains of Abraham in 1759, and have sometimes moaned about that. But there was continuity at the heart of their experience, too. From their first landings to the present day, they have lived under one monarch or another; his ethnicity didn’t matter much. Only in 1960, suddenly and almost unaccountably, they awoke from their mediaeval slumber and overthrew … their own Catholic Church.

Since that “Quiet Revolution” — nobody hit, even by a snowball — they have entertained a Separatism that is paradoxical and odd. Having destroyed their own heritage, they demand that it be protected from immersion in the “Anglo” culture all around them: the very one they so eagerly embraced. Hence oppressive language laws, with bureaucrats who actually measure the point-size of any English that may be visible on a sign or label; and other unbelievably petty impositions, instantly waived for American tourists.

That is how it came to be, that in the vast reaches that speak English only, public services are bilingual; but in the bilingual areas, they are French-only. The national capital, Ottawa, speaks English in the streets, but French in all the government departments. This is very Norman: England was like that, too, in the twelfth century. And it is very Canadian: for people here take everything lying down. Or more precisely, we line up for it.

And this is why Canada has advanced, to the “cutting edge” of contemporary depravity: because no one — French or English or assimilate “multicultural” — would think to complain. I am of course exaggerating. It is not quite everyone. There are a few exceptions. But I think I know them all.

[Continued in next post, above.]

You can run but you cannot hide

The Carthusians, an eremitic order a few decades short of their one thousandth year, provide a model for retirement from the world. They do not proselytize; they do not mess with the world at all, except by prayer. They don’t beg for money; they refuse even to make cause for any of their own suspected saints; only others may speak for them. In the descent through the centuries from St Bruno of Cologne, they have consistently minded their own business, stayed clean of politics, and got on with their tasks in daily work and worship. Only a few hundred remain, in a couple dozen Charterhouses around the world; yet they shrink and grow unaccountably.

Well, short of death, no complete disengagement is possible. The Nazis massacred them because they were sheltering Jews, and a few Communists, too. (There is a good book on this, La Strage di Farneta, “The Farneta Massacre,” by the Italian journalist Luigi Accattoli, compiled from the extensive materials Pope St John Paul II was assembling on the martyrs of the twentieth century.) After the war, Carthusian survivors were compelled to publicize that their sanctuary was disinterested. The fact that Communists had come to them for shelter in no way implied sympathy for their cause.

Indeed, they had been massacred by the Republicans and Communists during the Spanish Civil War.

They were massacred during the French Revolution.

They were massacred during the sixteenth-century Dutch Revolt against Spanish Catholic rule.

They were massacred during the English Reformation after Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries.

They were massacred during the Hussite Revolution in fifteenth-century Bohemia.

And so on. I mention these things not to jerk tears, but to make a point confirmed through history. If gentle reader thinks he may retreat to a place where the world will not follow him, he may think again. The very act of retirement to prayer is an excitement to the devil, and murderous mobs of nominalists, enlighteners, liberals, progressives, and others inspired by Satan, have been with us since time out of mind. Do not assume that you are safe in South Dakota, or wherever else the Latin Mass is sung.

Holiness, more largely, is an incitement to the demonic forces, as Christ not only taught, but demonstrated. It is a grave theological error to present Him as naïve. One is safer in this world to avoid holiness, if you are capable of believing that Hell does not exist. How Christ will save you, when you have done no good, I leave up to Him; for it is beyond my imagination.

It happens that my Joint Chief Washington Correspondent has forwarded a brilliant short piece by Dr James Patrick, in which he advances the “Newman Option” for Catholic life in these difficult times. (See here.) As it states realities in a learned, elegant, and very concise way, I shall merely endorse it. Moreover, it appears to be a tract for what I might describe as Christian Idleness.

There is a place for political works, to my mind, including especially works of self-defence when something can be accomplished by them. But these are transient acts. In any longer scheme, and even in the shorter, God and not man is the author of Salvation.


I have received a protest from a South Dakotan, who writes:

“The home of the B-1 Bomber, one of the more desirable nuke targets, is in a big, open field that I look out on from my picnic table. … People call their neighbours in downtown Rapid City when a cougar is walking down the boulevard. (No, not that kind of cougar.) … Children are minced up with farm equipment, though never for profit, unlike other places in the USA. … South Dakotans do not imagine that they are safe; they are simply intent upon preserving what they love. In the case of the Latin Mass, they built their own chapels, flew in priests and bishops for Sacraments, and stared down more than one Novus Ordo bishop. … South Dakotans can cut their own trees and build their own churches. They can spin and weave their own vestments and altar cloths, take their own wheat and grapes and make hosts and wine. … Some of their children become priests and monks and nuns. Others become scientists and teachers who know what creation means and what salvation requires, and pass that information along intact to the next generation. … By the way, Mr Warren, we also write and bite.”

But, but, I reply, I do not say that South Dakotans have illusions about the safety of South Dakota. Rather, beleaguered Catholics of the Eastern Seaboard have the illusion that they’d be safe in South Dakota, and I would edify them.

Respice finem

Call me a rootless cosmopolitan, but (you could feel that “but” coming, couldn’t you gentle reader?) the wide world would be lost on me without a sense of place. In the moment of space and time, there is location, and it follows us about. In starting upon any journey there must be a point of departure, and in life itself one must come from somewhere. Perhaps we have forgotten.

It might be a place you despise. Many of my friends come from places like that; I love hearing them trash their own origins. Always, there is love at the root of it; but how well it can be concealed!

Some Hebridean I have come to know through the mixed miracle of email has it just right. He was born in South Uist, but has hardly been back. His love for the place has grown in his absence from it, in the usual Caledonian or Hibernian manner. Yet it expands. His sense of being from a croft or blackhouse, a long time ago; from an island, from an archipelago, from Scotland, from the British Isles, from Europe, from the planet Earth, is telescoped in a single soul on what we might call the Aristotelian focal principle. True love is something that cannot be escaped.

Among the dangers of travel is homesickness. I was myself, as a once-girlfriend put it, “kicked around the globe” in childhood and youth, and in a moment of fury, she described me as an empty can, shaped by this experience. A man of dents and creases. I had to acknowledge the truth of her observation, for as a consequence of my wanderings, I already felt nostalgia for many different places; and that sense of loss that comes with many deaths. Persons to whom I was once so close — when we were young — removed over seas of space and time. And now I hear of the death of someone in his seventies, whom I had not seen since he was thirty, and weep for all the lost years.

There is an old Japanese Buddhist quatrain I once carried around in my heart, and in my shoes on the open road. It is a prayer of pilgrimage; perhaps a pilgrimage to nowhere:

Really there is no East and West:
Where, then, is the North and the South?
Illusion makes the world close in,
Enlightenment opens it on every side.

All roads lead to Rome, as once was true throughout the West, and continues true in the Catholic chest. And in every Christian: to Heaven’s Gate in Jerusalem Wall. (Roman Catholics are Christians, incidentally.)

Once I was on foot in the north of Spain, following what I did not fully realize was a pilgrim route to the shrine of Saint James the Great: the Camino de Santiago. That was in my pre-Christian state; in fact, I never got there. It is among my regrets that I did not carry on.

From here to there we go, in time, even if we don’t in space. Our own home may become unrecognizable; if we returned as a ghost in a thousand years, we might be dispossessed of our last illusion. There is no here, here, on which to rely, and everything crumbles in the passage through the ages. All change is for the worse, as Father Faber said, including change for the better. But, “those are pearls that were his eyes,” &c. Everything will be transformed.

We can know of our beginnings, but in the old Roman proverb, respice finem, we must “consider the end.”

On brain damage

Would it be in gentle reader’s best interest to be dead?

Don’t ask me. The question is for you this morning. Your case may be more complicated than mine. Perhaps the choice is between being dead and committing a monstrous crime, that will involve the death of others; whether this be a sin of commission, or omission. I find it useful to think about such situations myself; and to dream about them, as I have done. Nightmares they are, truly, but in this life, there are not only sweet dreams.

But what if you were in pain, perhaps terrible pain (I leave you to decide what “pain” means), and your prospect of getting out of it alive were naught, short of a miracle. Then what do you do?

The Christian teaching looks tough. The pain, however great, is yours to endure, and offer up to the Cross, till God himself pulls your life support system. His works differently from the tech support in hospitals. There are no legal appeals to turn it on or off. Sooner or later, everyone must die in the flesh; until when, choosing life is indicated, as a lawyer might put it.

A great deal of blather has been pumped into the issue of medical life support, thanks to the complexity of our machines. Even a healthy human requires air, water, food, and an environment within a certain temperature range, or he will die in the flesh. Remove these things from another in one’s care and, at least in the past, one would be facing a charge of murder. There is no hospital, of which I am aware, that has not the equipment to deliver these things, even to a comatose patient; and I have seen some under-equipped hospitals in my time.

The rest is negotiable. It is a little known fact that the Church does not, and never did insist on genuinely high-tech interventions, to keep a body nominally alive. She is there to provide the Sacraments to the gravely ill and dying. This, too, requires simple machinery, and must not be denied.

Comas, “vegetative states,” incurable conditions — these are nothing new. The neurological disorders are perhaps more a mystery to the doctors, yet all human diseases are finally a mystery to them. A doctor once described to me the mechanics of kidney failure. He was an honest man, and a specialist, who distinguished between what is obvious, and what isn’t. There was so much he could do with confidence; so much with less confidence; so much he could not do at all. The sort of doctor, I would say, who would never be involved with “killing a patient for his own good”; the sort who may already be rare in our medical faculties.

Brain degeneration is common to us all. One thing can be said for it: the condition is painless. If a man really is reduced to the intellectual state of a turnip, then he feels no pain, beyond that which a turnip might feel. If more, then one has misstated his condition. But practically, we do know that patients with serious brain damage are normally unaware of the fix they are in, for the very reason that they feel no pain.

It is the same for those immersed in the contemporary media of news and entertainment. The brain damage is cumulative, and sadly very real; but the customers are unaware of it.